Cracking the Hidden Archaeology Job Market

Keywords: cultural resource management jobs, historic preservation employment, job search, job tips

Hashtags: #CRMarch, #archaeology, #jobs, #jobtips, #recruiting, @succinctbill

In case you didn’t already know, the best way to get a job in archaeology, cultural resource management, and historic preservation is NOT by responding to job posts. Of course, responding to job posts and applying for positions is necessary for any job search. But, it is not the best way to go about landing a job; in fact, it’s probably the least productive way. Unfortunately, this is the principal route most aspiring CRMers and other archaeologists take on their way to finding a job.

Connecting with the right people and making sure they know you is the job search method I’ve advocated for anyone that wants to be an archaeologist (Wanna know more? For starters, check out my job seeker’s posts How to Get A Job in Archaeology, Parts 1–4, Reasons for Building a Professional Network Online, Introduction to Friendraising for Archaeologists, and How to find a New Archaeology Job using LinkedIn). Basically, by the time you respond to a job posting you are going to be trying to land a position from super experts that have decades of experience, connections, and skills that probably out match your own. This is the least successful way to land a job.

Cold calling without conducting background research and dropping your résumé into an amorphous “file” is absolutely THE worst way to land a job. Companies always hire the people they know first and dig into the “file” after they realize they can’t staff the project from referrals alone. They post a position only after they’ve already asked all of their friends and employees and looked at all the best résumés in the “file”.

Recently, I read a book that describes the job search method I advocate in much more eloquent terms than I can muster. This sage wisdom has been chronicled in the book “Cracking the Hidden Job Market: How to Find Opportunity in Any Economy” by Donald Asher. Asher has been a career coach for over 20 years and has written eleven books on careers, résumé-writing, the job search, and higher education. While we have a similar approach to job searches, Asher has much more experience on the topic than I. “Cracking the Hidden Job Market” is written in a straight-forward, vernacular style that makes it a quick and enjoyable read. It is a must for anyone looking to land a job in cultural resource management, historic preservation, or heritage conservation.

With the major annual conferences (SAA2014 and SHA2014) on their way in early 2014, there will be hundreds of archaeology students clamoring to get connections and job leads. Unfortunately, many will approach potential employers using completely whack methods that will:

1) Be absolutely unremarkable, making their first interaction with hiring managers so unmemorable that the manager will never remember who you are the next time you both meet,

2) Be so caustic that it will turn off the hiring manager, and/or

3) Get them little to no information on when and where the jobs will be at.

Believe me, I know that this happens because for years I was the one alienating myself from hiring managers. When I first got my Master’s, I was absolutely desperate to find an archaeology job. Anything, almost anywhere. I remember literally blurting out, “So, do you know where the jobs are at? Will you hire me?” as I thrust my résumé into their hands with a nervous smile. Jobs? For…who the fu*k are you again? “Uuuh, no,” they’d quickly respond as they turned their heads and walked away. Those managers must have been so embarrassed for me.

I had no skills. I’d done no research before the conference. I had no idea how to get a job and I was blowing it at conference after conference. Unfortunately, Asher’s book had not yet been written, so this guidebook wasn’t around to help me out.

Asher’s Guide to Approaching Possible Employers

In “Cracking the Hidden Job Market,” Asher explains that approximately half of all jobs are never posted or advertised in any way. They are created or filled by individuals that circumvented the entire process or got a huge head start by introducing themselves to prospective employers BEFORE an opening was announced. Chapter 10: Engaging Possible Employers is one of the most pertinent sections of the book for any archaeologist looking to land a job or get leads at professional conferences. Asher highlights three aspects of the job search that can be used in archaeology conference job search campaigns:

1)      The Candidate-In-Waiting— This is a form of informational meeting where you are simply trying to introduce yourself to prospective employers that aren’t necessarily hiring at that moment. This is the most common form of interaction at conferences. Use your 30-second elevator speech (which is covered by Asher on pgs. 96–97 and in Michael Port’s “Book Yourself Solid”).

Or, use a two-sentence introduction that goes something like this, “My name is________, I do___________ at (place of employment), and I see you work for _____________. Did you hear about (any relevant archaeological discovery, historic preservation topic, or conference presentation that is relevant to the region in which the hiring manager works. Or, admit you know nothing about that area and ask what’s going on in that region). You just want to break the ice and get into a conversation so you can demonstrate you’re a real human with a personality and identity.

Be normal. Try to talk your way into asking open-ended questions about the manager’s company or work. Also, try to get some information about other companies in that area. DON’T ASK FOR A JOB unless they allude to an offer that you might be interested in. If they have an opening, try to learn as much as possible about the company/company employees/the person you’re talking to/what they do for a living. You can use this information when you apply for the position.

You are trying to get information and make a professional connection. I call this friendraising because the most way to do this is by acting like you are making a friend (Of course, there’s more to this that I will explain below). You are also trying to introduce yourself so that, if a position does open up, somebody in that company will remember you. This could be the opening you need to circumvent the hiring process.

2)      Possible Employers and the Tickle List— In addition to introducing yourself, you’re trying to get information about possible employers, which at a conference is every single professor and CRM company employer. You will add this information to your job leads list (Asher recommends you have a list of at least 100 job leads in the industry in which you want to work at all times! I started building my list last weekend and made it to 57 with just the people I already knew. I plan on using LinkedIn and the internet to round out the rest of the list).

In addition to a job leads list, you will also be creating a list of possible employers— a list of people that work at companies that hire folks in the position you want to have. You can “tickle” the leads on this list by periodically sending them news and interesting information via email (creating a Google Alert for certain keywords is an excellent source of material for these “tickles”).

3)      The Contingent World and the Hercules Offer— Those that are desperate for an archaeology job (such as students and field techs) are always aware of the contingent world. This includes temporary or part-time work that MAY turn into something permanent. The key word is “may.” Oftentimes, temporary archaeology positions do not turn into permanent employment. Since friendraising and networking is a full-time gig, it is very likely that you will get a tidbit of information or experience while working as a contingent employee that will land you a permanent position somewhere else.

Giving BEFORE you ask for also central to friendrasing. That’s where Asher’s “Hercules Offer” comes into play. Feel free to offer your services if you have some experience or key skill that a company could really use. Emailing a PDF of a CRM report or key article is another huge way to help out your future employer. Most grey literature goes unknown and there are way too many archaeology articles produced each year for all of us to know about. You never know when an obscure document will be the key reference for helping a company deal with a particularly persnickety cultural resource.

While the overall economy and cultural resource management industry has suffered huge losses in the last decade, Asher notes that there is actually a “war for talent” coming on. He notes the fact that baby boomers are retiring and they’re looking for talented individuals to fill their empty shoes.

He notes, “The generation after the boomers is 15 percent smaller than the boomer wave. Take an historical average of 3 percent economic growth and combine it with a 15 percent demographic contraction, and you have an 18 percent shortage of qualified managers! This is really a crisis in development. It’s happening in slow motion and the Great Recession has been a speed bump in the process—but it is absolutely already underway. Baby boomers are starting to exit stage right, and there is a shortage of highly skilled managers to take their place” (pg. 128; emphasis in the original).

While I may not agree with Asher’s math, it is reassuring to think about the fact that my skills will be in demand in the near future. It also means that entry-level and mid-level management positions will open up when the fortunate Gen-Xers transition into upper management. I just hope they don’t forget what happened during the Great Recession and do their best to diversify CRM companies and build future companies on foundations with multiple streams of income.

You can buy “Cracking the Hidden Job Market” on Amazon or check it out from your local library. If you have any questions or comments, write below or send me an email.


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